Adler v. I & M Rail Link, L.L.C.

Decision Date17 June 1998
Docket NumberNo. C 97-3116-MWB.,C 97-3116-MWB.
Citation13 F.Supp.2d 912
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
PartiesBobby ADLER, William Anderson, Randall Baker, David Beranek, Jeffrey Bergstrom, Ralph Conger, Harry Greenwell, Terry Hacker, Kent Helble, Jim Ishmael, John Jones, Michael Kulish, Gary Kupferschmidt, Robert Lang, David Marin, Jerry Martens, Dan McCarthy, Drew Meyer, William Michuta, Robert Monigold, William Olsen, Mark Paulson, James Petty, Wayne Pine, David Reed, Steven Saale, Martin Shepard, Ronald Shimek, Michael Simon, Vincent Simonini, Michael Stansberry, Randy Sundquist, Steve Tarras, Patrick Whalen, Larry Yahn, and Edward Wojohn, Plaintiffs, v. I & M RAIL LINK, L.L.C., an Iowa company, and C.P. Rail, a/k/a Soo Line Railroad Co., a Minnesota corporation, Defendants.

Charles A. Collins, St. Paul, MN, Jim Arenson, Zimmerman, Miller & Arenson, Iowa city, IA, for Plaintiffs.

William C. Davidson, Jed E. Brokaw, Lane & Waterman, Davenport, IA, for Defendant I & M Rail Link.

Susan M. Robiner, Leonard, Street & Deinard, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendant C.P. Rail/Soo Line Railroad Co.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT I & M RAIL LINK'S MOTION TO DISMISS AND DEFENDANT C.P. RAIL/SOO LINE RAILROAD'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

BENNETT, District Judge.

                TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I. INTRODUCTION ..................................................................... 
                A. Factual Background ............................................................ 
                B. Procedural Background ......................................................... 
                II. LEGAL ANALYSIS .................................................................. 
                A. Applicable Standards .......................................................... 
                B. The RLA Claim ................................................................. 
                1. RLA provisions and causes of action ........................................ 
                2. Availability of the cause of action to job applicants ...................... 
                3. Does Nelson preclude the Track Workers' RLA claim? ......................... 
                a. "Transfer" employees .................................................... 
                b. Conspiracy to violate the RLA ........................................... 
                c. "Per se" violations by Soo Line ......................................... 
                d. "Successor" liability for RLA violations ................................ 
                C. The FELA Claim ................................................................ 
                1. The purpose and scope of the FELA .......................................... 
                2. Does the FELA authorize a cause of action for retaliation against a
                claimant? ................................................................. 
                3. Does Iowa public policy authorize the cause of action? .....................  4. The relief available ....................................................... 
                5. Can "applicants" assert a FELA retaliation claim? .......................... 
                D. The ADA Claim ................................................................. 
                1. Pre-employment inquiries concerning disabilities ........................... 
                2. Does § 12112(d) authorize a cause of action for improper inquiries? ... 
                3. Pleading of disability and perceived disability ............................ 
                E. Civil Conspiracy .............................................................. 
                1. Civil conspiracy under Iowa law ............................................ 
                2. Can a state-law civil conspiracy claim be based on an alleged violation
                of federal law? ........................................................... 
                III. CONCLUSION ..................................................................... 
                

In an attempt to derail some of the plaintiffs' claims before they ever leave the station, the defendant railroads have moved to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings for failure to state a claim or lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The challenged claims assert anti-union animus in violation of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., discrimination and retaliation for filing claims under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., prohibited inquiries and discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and civil conspiracy to violate each of these federal acts and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., arising from the failure of one of the defendant railroads to rehire the plaintiff track maintenance workers when it purchased eleven hundred miles of track from the other defendant railroad, re-employed all managers and most track maintenance workers, and allegedly assumed all contracts and obligations of the predecessor. The court must consider not only the adequacy of the pleading of such claims, but their availability to persons in the circumstances of the plaintiffs.

I. INTRODUCTION
A. Factual Background

As this matter comes before the court on motions to dismiss and for judgment on the pleadings, the factual background for the present ruling is based upon the allegations of the complaint, which are taken as true. See, e.g., Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). The plaintiffs, all railroad track workers (the Track Workers), were employed by defendant C.P. Rail, a/k/a Soo Line Railroad Company (Soo Line), until May or June of 1997.1 The complaint alleges that the Track Workers average forty-three years of age and fourteen years of experience and that all were qualified for and were performing their job duties with Soo Line. However, they were not rehired by defendant I & M Rail Link, L.L.C. (I & M), when I & M bought approximately 1100 miles of Soo Line's track on April 5, 1997, even though I & M did rehire the majority of Soo Line's managers and employees previously responsible for maintaining that section of track. According to the complaint, I & M's purchase included, inter alia, all of Soo Line's physical facilities, including track from Winona, Minnesota, to Kansas City, Missouri, buildings, equipment, tools, cars, locomotives, and all of Soo Line's contracts and business obligations. The Track Workers allege that "I & M is a successor business entity to and, in the context of the facts of this case, is the alter ego of the Soo Line." Complaint, ¶ 23.2

The Track Workers allege that I & M and Soo Line (collectively the Railroads) reached an agreement for the purchase of the track and employment of Soo Line's employees in November of 1996, although I & M was not incorporated until February 28, 1997, and did not begin operating as a common carrier until April 5, 1997, when its purchase of Soo Line's track was consummated. In December of 1996, I & M announced its intention to retain all managers of Soo Line in the areas purchased and to retain all qualified maintenance-of-way employees. I & M requested employment applications from all non-management workers on or about November 25, 1996, and interviewed applicants in December of 1996 and January of 1997. In those interviews, the Track Workers allege that they were asked whether they had any physical problems or disabilities; whether they had been injured on the job while working for Soo Line; whether they had made any claims for any on-the-job injuries at Soo Line; and whether they had filed any union claims or grievances while employed at Soo Line. Following the interviews, on May 30, 1997, and June 2, 1997, I & M refused to hired any of the plaintiffs, except Yahn and Petty, who were later disqualified without cause.

The Track Workers allege that, prior to the interviews and continuing until I & M made its hiring decisions, Soo Line managers impermissibly provided information to I & M concerning each plaintiff's employment history, including information about the Track Workers' union activities — such as activism, leadership, strike support, and claim filings — medical condition and work-related injuries, claims for work-related injuries, and disabilities. The Track Workers allege that Soo Line managers then participated in I & M's hiring decisions, and that those decisions were motivated at least in part by an intent to retaliate or discriminate against the Track Workers for union activities, disabilities, or injury claims.

B. Procedural Background

The Track Workers filed their complaint in this lawsuit on November 26, 1997, and a first amended and substituted complaint on February 26, 1998. In the amended complaint, the Track Workers assert seven causes of action: (1) violation of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., by conspiring to and actually denying them employment based in whole or in part on their participation in protected union activities; (2) violation of the express and implied provisions of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., and regulations of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), 49 C.F.R. § 225 et seq., which purportedly prohibit retaliation or discrimination based on reporting or filing claims for work-related injuries on the railroad; (3) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., by denying the plaintiffs reemployment because of disabilities or perceived disabilities within the meaning of the ADA; (4) age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; (5) conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) to violate the plaintiffs' rights under the RLA, FELA, FRA, ADA, and ADEA; (6) a state-law civil conspiracy to violate the same federal rights; and (7) intentional interference with prospective contractual opportunities, apparently by Soo Line, which deprived the Track Workers of the opportunity to work for I & M in their home areas.

Instead of answering the complaint, I & M moved to dismiss the RLA, FELA, ADA, and § 1985(3) claims on...

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